Saturday 24 November 2012

Children of the Circle

Picts, preparing to make somebody's life very, very unpleasant.

Pencils on black pastel paper.


Sunday 18 November 2012

Anglo-Saxon Army for WAB

Well, here’s my Anglo-Saxon army. Really, it’s Anglo-Danish, due to the presence of huscarls, but a bit of jiggery pokery and mixing these figures in among the thegns would make it suitable for earlier periods too.

Anytime you feel like it...

We have the army general, a Jarl, plus one of the three Aeoldermen, designated the army standard bearer. These are drawn up with the single unit of huscarls, equipped with two-handed axes, with leader, musician and standard bearer. Here right in the centre on the highest ground they can dominate the battlefield (1).

Then, two units of armoured thegns (2 and 3), each unit having a leader, musician and standard bearer. One each of the other two Aeoldermen is attached to these units, to bolster their leadership.

A single unit of ceorls (4), with leader, musician and standard bearer provides some support for the flanks and acts as a reserve, albeit not a terribly mobile one.

Finally, two units of geburs (5 and 6), one armed with slings and one equipped with bows round out the army with some fire support.

The strengths of this army are the large number of steady, well-armoured infantry that can fight in strong formations (using shieldwall) with spears. This is amplified if you have huscarls in the army.
The mixed unit rule, whereby you can intermix armoured and unarmoured troops and have them fight as the former, makes even relatively cheap troops noticeably more formidable.
Its weaknesses are its relatively low mobility and a dearth of missile troops. The latter can be solved, by swapping a fairly small number of thegns for a much larger quantity of sling armed geburs, but the mobility problem remains.

By varying the banners, and hence the origin of the army, you can make some changes that have quite an impact on how the army performs.

Fighting under the golden wyvern of Wessex, all the thegns gain veteran status, and a chance to re-roll a single attack per unit. In my case this might make the difference between winning and losing two rounds of combat, and that might make a difference between winning and losing the whole battle.

The eagle and saltire of Mercia allows thegns to be designated as light infantry. In skirmish formation, the double rate move does go some way to overcoming the mobility problem. A Mercian army has a chance to actually seize and hold an objective in the face of a more mobile army, rather than to simply wait until the enemy in place and have to dislodge them.

Under the Invicta, Kentish men (or men of Kent) as shown here, were famed for their aggression . Thegns and ceorls can swap thrusting spears for throwing spears. Thus a charging unit can attack in two ranks in the first round. Two ranks, probably striking first and the gain of momentum is a potential battle winner.

Generally, this is not the army that can dash across the table to secure the strategic terrain or seize a key structure. It doesn’t dash anywhere, but tends to trundle very deliberately. However, anything attempting to interfere with that trundling had better be numerous, resolute and prepared to be crushed flat by a spear-tipped steamroller. Likewise, if it gets itself set somewhere it wants to be, then driving it off is no easy task.  With its light troops guarding its flanks and buying time to re-orient the heavy units, trying to outmanoeuvre this army might not be as effective as you might think. If the characters can hold the units together, and provided I don't roll too many 1's so the warbands charge like maniacs, it's a winner.

This is the army that ground Harald Hardrada and Tostig Godwinson into the earth at Stamford Bridge, and came within an ace of sending the Bastard of Normandy back whence he came.

Come on have a go, if you think you’re hard enough!

Thursday 8 November 2012

Saxon Great Hall, Part 3

The final part of the saga! You could be forgiven for thinking that there was an enormous amount of work went into this, based on the time it's taken to write. In fact the building, painting and whatnot was fairly quick,compared to the problems involved with supplies, computers and cameras!

Anyway, first thing was a layer of flock outside, muted down a bit with a burnt umber wash. 

Painting followed the usual scheme - lots of drybrushing in progressively lighter shades. I think it worked well enough.

A large chair (for the thegn) was put on a low dais at the doorless end, where the master and mistress of the hall would have sat. This were plastic card, scrap balsa and a bit of greenstuff. The rushes on the floor are sisal string held down with PVA. A wash of burnt umber followed by a drybrush of a light, dusty colour ties these in. You could add tapestries, and all sorts of other decorations but I limited myself to a shield on the wall for colour.

 Best seat in the house.

I added opened shutters on the windows, plus two doors closed, and one open. I felt it was easier to add these later on, to avoid them breaking off during construction. 

Not exactly double-glazing...

The final touch was some decorated panels over the lintels of the doors. These can be very colourful and decorative, making a nice accent. I drew these out, about four times the final size then shrunk them to fit on the computer.

How decorative!

Here it is, finished. Not perhaps the dwelling of royalty or even an eorlderman, but a building belonging to a successful thegn, and step up from the Anglo-Saxon equivalent of a used car salesman!

Who lives in a house like this?


Some Limited Conversions

I needed some command figures for the second set of thegns I have as part of the Anglo-Saxon army. I had a few spare figures from Gripping Beast left over. These were ordinary spearmen, but a little work with wire and green stuff turned them into a standard bearer and horn blower.

First up the standard bearer. Here he is, with a shot of the original figure (another example obviously), for comparison.   First job was cut away the original forearm, and make a slot in the shoulder to allow the upper arm to move into its new position. A hole drilled into the upper arm to take a piece of soft wire allows the new upper arm to be formed. I put the banner staff in place at this stage, attached to the end of the wire armature. I found that this allowed me to model the hand in situ more easily and accurately. After I was happy with the hand, I modelled the tunic sleeve, then made good the cuts and bends on the mail shirt.

The staff is a piece of steel rod with a point hammered and ground. The banner is the one I posted here, if you remember. Glued down onto a pit of paint tube and bent to shape, I think it looks the part.

The hornblower is slightly simpler. A cut or two around the joints of the arm, a couple of bends and some modelling of the hand and the horn from green stuff. The starting figure again is pictured with the conversion for comparative purposes.

I know that they're pretty minor conversions, as far as these things can go, but they're just the thing to do the job I want doing.


Tuesday 6 November 2012

Dark Ages Bibliography

I don't know whether or not others will find it useful, but I thought I'd put together a list of references that I've found useful (or even not so useful) in putting together my Dark Ages stuff.

I've deliberately left game rulebooks and supplements out of the list. These are specific to whatever setup you use, and having a pile of rulebooks for something you don't play probably isn't useful.

Anyway, on with the list.

Wargames Research Group

Armies of the Dark Ages, Ian Heath, WRG
Probably as near an indispensible reference as there is, in my opinion. If you really could only have one book, this would be a compelling choice. Follows the usual WRG format of an overview of the armies of the period, potted battle histories, plus a huge number of black and white line illustrations with informative captions.

Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome, Phil Barker, WRG
 Arguably a bit too early, but contains a good deal of stuff that is both interesting and useful, especially for an early Dark Ages player.

Availability of WRG books seems to be a little bit hit and miss, but they are well worth investing time hunting down on Ebay.


The various Osprey series probably needs no introduction. I bought my first MAA book about 27 years ago and have carried on ever since. Don't expect tremendous depth from a book with only 48 pages, and you are usually not too badly disappointed. The colour plates of course can be a great source of inspiration. Particular volumes I've found useful include:

MAA154 Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars, David Nicolle and Angus McBride.
Becoming slightly dated as the archaeology and its interpretation has moved on, but still a solid source, especially the late Angus McBride's plates.

MAA247 The Roman Army from Hadrian to Constantine Michael Simkins and Ronald Embleton
Useful as a source for Romano-British armies.

Warrior 17 Germanic Warrior AD 236–568 Simon MacDowell and Angus McBride
A very broad subject indeed, but MacDowell provides a useful jumping-off point for more detailed research. The illustrations have proved very useful indeed.

Warrior 50 Pictish Warrior AD 297–84 Paul Wagner, Angus Konstam and Wayne Reynolds
Very little is written about the Picts, so the choice of references isn't large. The illustrations are useful, but not in the same league as McBride's work. Whilst I have unashamedly used this book on many occassions, given the very sketchy source materials the authors have had to work from, I have lingering reservations about how truely authoritative it can be.

Warrior 9 Late Roman Infantryman AD 236–565 Simon MacDowell and Gerry Embleton and
Warrior 15 Late Roman Cavalryman AD 236–565 Simon MacDowell and Christa Hook
The influence of late Roman tactics and equipment, especially armour, on Dark Ages warfare, is profound. For this reason alone both of  these books are worth having. MacDowell's written work is very good, clear and authoritative. Unfortunately the illustrations do not equal it, in my opinion. I do not especially like the style of either illustrator, and whilst the colour plates are useful, I have not found them as easy to work from (for example when sculpting helmets) as similar offerings from McBride or even other work by the same people.

Warrior 5 Anglo-Saxon Thegn AD 449–1066 Mark Harrison and Gerry Embleton
Very useful. Harrison's written work is a good starting point, and Embleton's illustrations are useful, certainly better than his work on the Roman Infantry. I think this is currently out of print, but worth seeking out.

Fortress 92 Strongholds of the Picts, Angus Konstam and Peter Dennis
Interesting and useful, with illustrations and text that are very handy for applying to the general principles of how Pictish fortresses might have been constructed. The black and white illustrations are in many cases too small to be helpful and are merely tantalising, but the decent bibliography allows you to get to the originals.

Fortress 80 British Forts in the Age of Arthur, Angus Konstam and Peter Dennis
 Konstam  and Dennis's works are useful if sketchy sources, and could use a more brutal hand with the editing in a number of places. However, the descriptions and the colour plates are fantastic as source material and inspiration for building model fortifications.

Fortress 56 Rome’s Saxon Shore, Nic Fields and Donato Spedaliere
Text OK, generally informative, illustrations not too great at all.

Academic Sources

I make no pretense of having any academic qualifications in this field (I'm a chemist), but it is gratifying to find the volume of academic work available that there is. Some disciplines appear almost to hide their work from the lay reader. None of the sources mentioned here are in very heavy going - anyone who can handle the work of Phil Barker will be all right.

The Grammar of Anglo-Saxon Ornament, Professor Rosemary Crump
Part of the Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, and available on the web here. An essential and very accessible guide to Anglo-Saxon stonework, invaluable in producing wargame buildings.

The Hebridean Iron Age: Twenty Years’ Research, Professor Dennis Harding
If you want to build a Pictish structure, read this paper. A fantastic piece of work, available here.

Symbols of protection: the significance of animal-ornamented shields in Early Anglo-Saxon England,  Tania Dickinson. 
A great guide to early medieval shields. Less detailed than Dickinson and Härke's co-authored work, but easier to find.

The Anglo-Saxon weapon burial rite: an interdisciplinary analysis, Heinrich Härke
A guide to who was buried with what, and an attempted to rationalise why. If you want some evidence for why most men had spears only, this is it. 

I'll update this with new references and new sections as and when. I hope it's useful to someone.